Joining Jesse Mahelona, center, after practice last month in Tennessee were, from left, sister Natasha, niece Dana, sister Brittney, girlfriend Brandee Kukita, mother Laurie, father Steven and nephew Keanu'u Mahelona.

Tackling the best
of the best

Tennessee defensive tackle
Jesse Mahelona is drawing
some big-time attention

The NFL can hardly wait for Jesse Mahelona.

After Monday's practice at University of Tennessee, an NFL scout approached the defensive tackle from Kailua-Kona and asked him, "Are you (entering the NFL Draft) this year?"

Mahelona, a junior, said, "No, I am staying for another year."

The NFL scout wished him well and left.

That is the kind of attention that Mahelona, a 2001 Kealakehe High School graduate, is drawing after his first few games in the Southeastern Conference.

John Chavis, defensive coordinator of 11th-ranked Tennessee, told Hawaii Grown: "I haven't seen everyone play, but I have seen a lot of them on tape and I can say with a clear conscience, there is no doubt (Mahelona) is the best defensive tackle in the country. He is everything you are looking for."

Jesse Mahelona leads the SEC in tackles for loss with 1.57 per game.

MAHELONA'S ALREADY SUBSTANTIAL image soared even higher after his role in Tennessee's 17-13 victory over Alabama on Saturday.

He began the week on crutches after suffering a sprained medial collateral ligament against Mississippi. After not practicing all week, Mahelona was listed as "questionable" for the Alabama game.

"It was too sore to play Thursday and Friday. I could not move laterally," Mahelona said. "I prayed to God for instant healing.

"On the field Saturday, it felt good."

He was in on 30 plays, and personally rejected Alabama's best fourth-quarter drive. Trailing 17-10, the Crimson Tide drove from their 34-yard line to the Vols' 18. On first down, Mahelona sacked Alabama quarterback Spencer Pennington for a loss of 15 yards and three downs later, the Tide settled for a 47-yard field goal -- and the final score.

Mahelona described the play:

"I stepped to my right and the offensive tackle stepped heavy outside. I beat him inside, opened up my hips against the guard and hit the quarterback and made him fumble (but he was ruled down)," Mahelona said. "The coaches gave me a game ball."

He also got a figurative game ball in the national college report in the Washington Times.

"I'm grateful to God I played the way I did, coming off the injury that I had," Mahelona told the Knoxville News-Sentinel. He said the crowd of 107,000 at Neyland Stadium "helped me get through it."

MAHELONA'S mixture of ability and humility is what impresses Chavis.

"He has a tremendous personality, he's fun to be around and he is a tremendous competitor with a great temperament for the game," Chavis said of the 6-foot-2, 300 pound Mahelona. "He is strong, tough, very quick on his feet and has great leverage. His quickness for someone that size is remarkable."

Mahelona leads the SEC in tackles for loss with 1.57 per game despite missing the majority of the last two games because of his injury.

"J.T. Mapu (Kahuku '02) was our best (defensive lineman) last year, then he went on his church mission and we were really, really concerned," Chavis said.

Mahelona transferred from Orange Coast (junior) College in California and "brought a great work ethic to this group," Chavis said. "The other guys around him are playing better because of his work ethic."

Mahelona hopes other players from Hawaii will follow the trail he and Mapu blazed to Tennessee.

"They are looking at a few linemen from Hawaii," he said. "Let the younger guys know, it is something to work for ... the chance to experience what we are experiencing."

Extra points: Mahelona's family spent two weeks in Tennessee last month --- their first trip east of California. "They were amazed with how really consumed the fans are with Tennessee football," he said. ... The Mahelonas also visited Jesse's older brother, Steven Mahelona (Konawaena '00), who is a running back at Division II Tusculum College in Tennessee (64 miles northeast of Knoxville). Steven is on a medical redshirt season.


Loo wins Big Sky honors

Idaho State sophomore Jen Loo (Mililani '03) on Tuesday was named Big Sky Conference Offensive Soccer Player of the Week.

Loo scored a second-half goal to help Idaho State rally to beat Portland State 2-1, and assisted on the game-winning goal that beat Sacramento State 1-0.

"The past weekend was a great one, especially since my parents were up here to watch me play," Loo said. "They got to see me score and make an assist."

Coach Mark Salisbury said, "Jen has worked very hard to improve herself this season. ... Her play-making ability in the second half against Portland State dominated the flow of the game."

Loo shares the Idaho State scoring lead with 10 points (three goals, four assists).

» Junior Carmen Calpo (Pearl City '02 of Waianae) scored the game-winning goal in double OT Friday as East Carolina beat Cincinnati 2-1 in a Conference USA game. It was Calpo's third goal of the year.

» Freshman Kami Kapaku (Baldwin '04) scored Oregon's goal in a double-overtime, 1-1 tie with Pac-10 foe Washington State on Friday.

She followed with her team-leading fourth goal of the season in a 3-1 loss to No. 8 Washington on Sunday.

» Senior Chela Gray (Iolani '01 of Kaneohe) scored her team-leading seventh goal of the season for Western Washington on Monday.


» Evangel junior Micah Cravalho (Kaahumanu Hou '01 of Honokaa) was named Special Teams Player of the Week by the NAIA after he scored three touchdowns in the first quarter of Evangel's 25-23 victory at Central Methodist on Saturday.

Cravalho scored Evangel's first TD on an 86-yard kickoff return. Six minutes later he recovered a fumble in the end zone for another score. Central Methodist punted on its next possession and Cravalho returned the punt 75 yards to record his third TD.

He finished with three kickoff returns for 113 yards and two punt returns for 79 yards.


» Fresno State sophomore Tuli Peters (Kahuku '03 of Laie) on Monday was named Western Athletic Conference Player of the Week.

Peters averaged 3.67 kills and 4.0 digs a game while hitting .305 overall as the Bulldogs logged WAC victories over Louisiana Tech and SMU.


Aldridge has a block party
at Dominguez

When then-assistant coach Ali Wood of Cal State-Dominguez Hills was recruiting Ashley Watanabe of Aiea High School in 2001, among the questions Watanabe had was: "By the way, do you need a middle? She's real raw, more of a basketball player."

Watanabe was describing Aiea teammate Keesha Aldridge, who helped Na Alii win an HHSAA state basketball championship that year.

"So we brought Keesha out, really to please Ashley," Wood recalls. "But we saw at her tryout that she had tremendous potential and offered her (a scholarship) on the spot."

Wood didn't get Watanabe, who is now starting libero for No. 3 Hawaii, but Aldridge came to Division II Dominguez Hills and this year set career records in blocks and block assists.

Wood, now the head coach, credits Aldridge with the resurgence of the sport at Dominguez Hills.

"She has set the standard for CSUDH volleyball," Wood says.

The standards Aldridge has set for blocking are career totals of 291 block assists and 246.5 total blocks, an average of 0.66 blocks per game over four years. She set the block-assists record with nine in back-to-back matches last weekend, and spiked a team-high 16 kills in one of them.

"Keesha is one of the best natural blockers I have ever coached," Wood said.

But Aldridge has been much more than a 6-foot-1 force in the middle for Dominguez Hills.

"She has really blossomed as a student, athlete and leader," Wood said.

Aldridge is president of the Student-Athlete Advisory Council, was volleyball captain in 2003 and was accepted for "Who's Who in American Colleges." She also played basketball the past three years but gave it up this year to focus on volleyball. She volunteers as a teacher's aide and is set to graduate in 2006 with a degree in elementary education.

"I'm more passionate about volunteering with kids than I am about sports," Aldridge said. "Making a difference is my life's goal."

Volleyball will soon be something Aldridge used to do. "Times goes by so fast," she said. "You cherish your time out there."



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